Why Controlling Your Story Matters

Life feels wildly out of control these days. COVID-19 has taken all our plans and pulped them. Some of us have been thrust into the wild world of homeschooling and others are isolated like never before. It can feel like we don’t have many choices. It can feel like we don’t have control of our lives anymore.

We do have control, though. We make hundreds of little choices every day, starting with the moment we wake up. You decide whether you’ll get out of bed, what to eat, how much time you’ll spend on social media today, which news outlets to use, and on and on.

Focusing on the things that are within our grasp can a source of tremendous strength when life is topsy-turvy. We feel empowered. We can let things go that are beyond our control and start to, slowly, and with fits and starts, moments of resistance and acceptance, settle into a new reality.

I want to talk about how this relates to your story, and when I say “story” here, I mean the way you make sense of your life.

A few years ago, we had a serious health issue come up in our family. Everything came to a screeching halt and the only thing we did for about nine months was work on getting back to health.

If you’ve been in a situation like this, you know that you end up telling your story over and over and over again. Only, in the beginning, it isn’t a story because you haven’t made sense of it yet. You’re in the middle of it, caught up in a sequence of events and trying to make sense of it.

Early on, however, it became clear that other people were going to attach a meaning to our experience. I used to call it hijacking the story. They took our situation and gave it meaning. Only the meaning they gave it had to do with their experiences, not ours.

We all walk into situations with our own baggage, our past experiences, beliefs, and fears that shape the way we see a situation. It’s how we give meaning to things, how we understand them. The problem for me was that people gave their meaning to our situation that wasn’t there for us. They saw it as a tragedy and we wanted it to be a story of hope, community, and survival.

You know you’re in one of these situations when you find yourself correcting or wanting to correct the way people talk about your situation.

With schools closed and kids at home right now, I hear and love that people are sympathetic and concerned. But I find myself wanting to correct them. To tell them that in my house, yes, we understand this isn’t ideal or what we had planned, but that we see it as an opportunity. We get to spend the day together. We get to decide how long school is. We get to teach our kids about all the daily work that it takes to run a household. We get to reimagine our lives in a way that no other recent generation has had an opportunity to. And with one young climate activist in the house, we get to rejoice that there are a lot fewer cars on the road and airplanes in the air.

Controlling your story is important not to get the facts right, but to get the feeling right. What emotion is central to your story? What message is central to your story? What do you want your story to say about you as a person, your spirit, your outlook on life?

All of these are embedded in your story and while we often cannot control much about the circumstances and events in our lives of the COVID-19 and major health scare variety, we can always do something about the story we tell about them.

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